What is the Great American Outdoors Act?
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What is the Great American Outdoors Act?

The Harvard Gazette called it "the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation" — and rightfully so.

What is the Great American Outdoors Act?

When we watch mainstream media or tune into our local news channels, it's not very often that we see outdoor legislation making five o'clock headlines. However, that doesn't make outdoor legislation any less pressing. This year the Great American Outdoors Act was passed and put into law, yet there is surprisingly very little hype about it outside of the outdoor community. To put the power of this act into perspective, the Harvard Gazette called it "the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation" — and rightfully so.

The Great American Outdoors Act was passed by congress on July 22nd, 2020, and signed into law on August 4th, 2020 by President Donald Trump. This act grants $1.9 billion each fiscal year starting in 2021 to the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. This act also makes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent.

So, what does this all mean?

For starters, this means that each year, the fund will prioritize and allocate money to five different conservation areas, ranked here:

  • the National Parks Service,
  • the Forest Service,
  • the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
  • the Bureau of Land Management,
  • and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Each year the National Parks Service will receive the most money out of all of the funded areas. This was largely determined based on the backlog of maintenance projects that needed to be addressed. Park maintenance will include a wide range of projects, but a few examples include trail maintenance and the restoration of historic buildings and campgrounds. In total, there is $20 billion worth of maintenance projects waiting to be completed in parks across the United States. There is no shortage of work that needs to be done.

The second part of the Great American Outdoors Act is the permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. When the fund was first introduced in 1965, it was not made official or permanently funded. In 2019, it was given permanent authorization which essentially meant it could never disappear, and with 2020's Great American Outdoors Act, it now will never lose federal funding. For something so important, it's been a long road to secure the government support it needs.

But, what does the Land and Water Conservation Fund actually support?

Good question. The LWCF covers 98% of United States counties and supports recreational access, protection, and preservation of their natural and cultural resources. Part of the 2019 reauthorization terms was to outline a way of splitting up funds: 40% would go to land acquisition (meaning, getting more land and parks for us to play in), 40% would go to recreational areas (meaning, support and maintenance projects), and the remaining 20% would be distributed as needed. So not only does the Great American Outdoors Act support national parks, but it also supports the state and local recreation areas as well.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "The fundamental idea behind the parks is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in the process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us." By permanently funding our parks and kickstarting restoration projects, we are securing these lands and keeping them clean, available, and open for years to come.

For more information on the Great American Outdoors Act, visit congress.gov.

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